Margin Call (2014): Chandor’s Timely Wall Street Drama, Starring Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci

As written and directed by the gifted independent filmmaker  J.C. Chandor, “Margin Call” is a timely drama, sets at a Wall Street Investment Bank, highlighting the roots and nature of the 2008 financial crisis.

Unfolding within a two-day period, “Margin Call” depicts the dramatic decisions and actions of a group of execs and employees during the financial collapse.  Though narrowly focused, “Margin Call” aims to shed broader light on the vices and excesses of American capitalism, specifically greed and fraud.

The tale begins on a seemingly routine business day, when junior risk analyst Seth Bregman (Penn Badgley), his senior colleague Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), and trading desk head Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) watch as a temporary human resources team conducts a layoff.

One of the fired employees is Peter and Seth’s boss, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), head of risk management. Before his departure, Dale tries to tell his employer that the firm should look closely into its doings and misdoings.  In rush, he gives Peter a USB memory stick with a project he had been working on.

Peter finishes Dale’s project and discovers that volatility in the firm’s portfolio of mortgage backed securities will soon exceed the usual volatility levels. Because of excessive leverage, if the firm’s assets decrease by 25% in value, it will suffer a loss greater than its market share.  He alerts Emerson, who calls the floor head, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey).

A series of urgent meetings follows with division head Jared Cohen (Simon Baker), chief risk management officer Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore), and CEO John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). Jared’s plan is to quickly sell all of the toxic assets before the market learns of their worthlessness, thus limiting the firm’s exposure, an action supported by Tuld but objected by Rogers.

Rogers warns that dumping the firm’s toxic assets will spread the risk throughout the financial sector and will destroy the firm’s relationships with its counterparties. He also warns that their customers will learn of the firm’s plans as soon as they realize that the firm is only selling the toxic securities.

No more can be disclosed without spoiling the fun of a tale that is suspenseful up to the very end, and socially relevant way beyond the film due to it topicality.

The entire ensemble does compelling work, and special kudos go to Spacey as an exec who fearfully knows what might happen and yet is powerless to stop the process, and Jeremy irons as the charming villain who moves with smoothly ease as he hurts most of the employees around him.

A rigorous boardroom thriller, Margin Call sort of updates David Mamet’s ruthless sagas of the real estate business by giving a more human face (though no more power or ethics) to the players.

It’s a most promising debut for Chandor as a writer and director of a well-crafted narrative that’d both credibly grounded and maddeningly ruthless.